Yaya joined his brother Kolo at the ASEC academy, aged 12, on the recommendation of mentor Patrick van Reijendam. Under the tutelage of coach Jean-Marc Guillou, a long-time friend of Arsene Wenger, Yaya made an immediate impression – the Frenchman tipping him to become one of the world’s greatest players.
In 2001 Yaya won his very first senior trophy with ASEC, claiming the Ivorian league title. Today one of the dormitories is named after Yaya, inspiring the next generation of young Ivorians learning the game. The academy is famous for producing such alumni as Gervinho, Didier Zokora, Aruna Dindane, Boubacar “Copa” Barry, Emmanuel Eboue and Salomon Kalou.